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Secret Invasion

Minimates
by yo go re

Last year's big Marvel crossover, Secret Invasion, was celebrated by a special four-pack of Minimates featuring four never-before-made characters. The only problem was that it was released well after the questions it raised had been answered.

The first issue ended with a pretty spectacular cliffhanger: a Skrull ship crashes, and out come a bunch of heroes who seem to have been reset to the '70s. Who's real? Who's a Skrull? In case you haven't read Secret Invasion yet, we won't spoil that until the end of the review. Suffice to say, all these figures come from that big scene.

Replaced by a Skrull once before, Wolverine was chosen for the Secret Invasion because of his membership in multiple superhuman groups and his exceptionally complicated history - making him the perfect candidate to sew discord and chaos within the heroes' ranks.

Wouldn't it be cool if that had been the case? If there had been multiple Wolverine Skrulls running around, explaining how he could be on every team known to man? But I guess the fanboys would have been angry that they'd been "cheated" if that were the case; they'd claim the stories didn't "count" anymore. Dumbasses. Anyway, we'll refer you again to the big list of Wolverine Minimates as we say "this is a version we've never had before."

This Minimate shows us Wolverine in his original costume: the "first appearance" one that looked more like a cat. Though the body may look like the same Wolverine that came with the Giant-Size X-Men set, it's more a study in how Minimate science has changed in five years. Rather than big chunky boots that fit over a Minimate foot, he has new feet molded with boot-fronts already attached. The shoulders of his costume are new pieces, held in place by the arms. The claws are shorter and thinner and - a Minimate first - have sculpted "ports" on the gloves.

As if that weren't enough, Wolverine's mask is removable, and he has a separate piece to simulate his hair. Yes, that's commonplace today, but it's another feature the older Wolverine didn't have. The hair was new for this set, though it's since been re-used for the "Heroes to the Rescue" four-pack. The hair is very smooth and comicbook-y (other than the familiar wings, of course), and it suits this set well. There's even a little bit of hair painted on his arms.

A powerful combination of the mutant Jean Grey and the all-powerful Phoenix Force, the Avengers must now face the possibility that the Jean Grey they knew could have been a Skrull for years. What this may mean for the X-Men remains to be seen...

Boy, talk about your much-needed characters! We've only had one Minimate Phoenix before, and not only was that the red-clad Dark Phoenix, she was also part of an SDCC-exclusive two-pack and never available at retail. How has it taken four years to get what seems like a no-brainer repaint? Well, to begin with, this isn't a repaint: she's more than just the old paint masters pulled out of a drawer and changed from red to green; in fact, there's nothing that's shared between the two. The shadows on her legs, the outline of her chest, the very shape of the bird logo itself... everything's been redone.

Even Jean's hair is new. The Dark Phoenix figure had era-appropriate Farrah hair, and while this one is similar, it's more detailed overall - Minimates just aren't as cartoony as they used to be. I'm sure someone out there is complaining about that on a message board right now. She does have the same old sash, but as far as re-used pieces go, that's minor; did you really expect them to mold an entirely new belt-piece for something that didn't change shape?

After giving up her own superhero identity, Jessica Jones became a private investigator and later married Luke Cage. With a new Jewel on the scene, all bets are off as the Avengers try to determine which Jewel is the real deal...

Okay, this is kind of cool: Jessica Jones is a character created by Brian Michael Bendis, and retconned into Marvel's history. It's not a case like the Sentry, where everyone was purposely made to forget he ever existed, but rather just that she was such a minor hero that no one bothered remembering her after her retirement. Aww, sad! A radioactive accident left her with the standard "Flying Brick" powerset, though she was never very good with them. AA's idea with these boxed sets is that the fourth slot goes to a character who they will probably never create again in any form, and in this case, that figure's Jewel.

Jewel's never had a toy of any sort before, so this is a Minimate debut in more ways than one. Her hair is a new pink piece, and her costume is mainly white, with blue reserved for the boots, gloves, chest and belt. The belt is a separate piece, molded with a pink diamond-shaped clasp. Her arms and shoulders are bare, and overall, Mark Bagley did a good job designing the sort of costume a Marvel hero would have worn in the past, rather than a modern look.

A former Avenger and best friend to Simon Williams (Wonder Man), Beast has undergone may changes over the years - making him a possible Skrull agent with a hidden agenda. Is his sudden return cause for alarm or a Skrull ploy to undermine the heroes' trust?

Beast is another one of the characters people have been requesting for years. Really, other than Jewel, this "Secret Invasion" set could have been "X-Men You've Wanted Forever." We've had movie Beast and lion Beast, but fans have been waiting for the classic "Blueverine" look: you know, the one he had for 30 years (1972 to 2001), until Grant Morrison got lazy. It's been reproduced excellently, here, even going so far as to use the "clawed" Minimate hands!

Since Wolverine is so popular, many fans think Beast's haircut copies Logan's, but he adopted this look two years before the little Canadian was even created, and Wolverine wouldn't be shown unmasked for several years after that. The pointy hair-wings? Hank McCoy created that look, girlfriend! Credit where it's due. The anatomical details on the body aren't straight lines, but are instead hatched to suggest fur.

Since this is a Secret Invasion set, there's a surprise lurking inside: each of the figures has a second face painted on the back of their head, a green lumpy Skrull! This kind of switcheroo is exactly what we've been asking for from Minimates for years, and it's been implemented perfectly with this set. Each of the figures has hair or a mask covering their heads, making it possible to hide the faces - they hide so well, in fact, that you can't even tell anything is odd about them until you take the hair off. They all have different expressions, too: Wolverine is angry, Phoenix is smug, Jewel is dispassionate and Beast is malicious. Excellent!

And as if that still wasn't enough, the set includes another four Skrull heads, so you can put them on any Minimates you want! You control the Invasion! The extras have holes in the top, so they work with the improved hair pieces. There are two male and two female heads, though the differences are so minor, so negligible you can use them for whoever you want. The expressions on these are a cocked eyebrow, a smirk, maniacal laughter and grim determination. It's a shame there aren't four different expressions on the backs of these heads: it would have given fans an excuse to buy two ses instead of just one.

So, that spoiler we promised you up above - when the retro heroes came spilling out of the Skrull ship, how many of them were real, and how many were fakes? Well, in a sense, this set tells you the answer: just like all four of these guys are secretly Skrulls in disguise, not a damn one of the heroes from the ship was the real deal. A great chance to throw a wrench in the works, and instead what we get is the biggest red herring since Communism.

The Minimate Secret Invasion set is a good buy, no matter how you look at it: four figures we haven't had before, four secret Skrull faces, and four more bonus Skrull heads. That's a fine deal to begin with, even before you consider how much playability it adds to all your other Minimates, too.

-- 07/20/09


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